UPDATE: President Obama signed the repeal law on December 22.
The Senate today passed legislation to repeal the discriminatory “don’t ask don’t tell” law banning gay and lesbian servicemembers from serving openly in the U.S. military.
“Today’s victory is a tremendous one for a nation that once denied women and African Americans the opportunity to serve. An integrated military, inclusive of gay and lesbian service members, is a moral imperative for our nation. We in the civil and human rights community believed that in 1948 when this country first allowed women and African Americans to serve in the military and we also believe that today,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ turned its back on the principle that people who are willing and able to do a job should be given a fair opportunity to do so. This is not only one of the most important principles behind the struggle to guarantee the civil and human rights of all people – it is also a matter of sound military strategy and common sense.”
Repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” was a major priority for the civil and human rights community this year. DADT has long been opposed by civil and human rights organizations as being discriminatory and counterproductive, depriving the military of access to individuals committed to defending our country.
In a May 26 letter to the House, The Leadership Conference said:
When it was first proposed in 1993, we believed that the policy of DADT was wrong from both a moral and practical standpoint. DADT turned its back on the principle that people who are willing and able to do a job should be given a fair opportunity to do it. This is not only one of the most important principles behind the struggle, throughout our nation’s history, to guarantee the civil and human rights of all people – it is also a matter of sound military strategy and common sense as well.
Repeal efforts picked up steam in January when President Obama called for repeal in his State of the Union address and numerous military leaders announced their support of repeal.
In February, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, announced the creation of a working group to evaluate how to implement a full repeal. On November 30, Secretary Gates turned in the working group’s study on repeal implementation, which found that repeal would pose little risk to military effectiveness.
Despite significant support for repeal – including 75 percent of the American people – Congress moved slowly. Repeal legislation had previously been attached to the Department of Defense authorization bill, but though the House passed its version of the package in May, two attempts to pass repeal legislation as part of the DOD authorization bill in the Senate were blocked.
Following the failed Senate vote last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I. Conn., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D. Penn., offered repeal legislation as a freestanding bill in both the House and the Senate. The House passed Rep. Murphy’s bill on Wednesday.
The repeal legislation now goes to President Obama for his signature.